The NBA MVP award is very important for legacy.
LeBron James won his fourth this year, putting him in rarified company with Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, and that's it. If you were making a starting five of best players in NBA history, those five are not a bad way to start.
But Thursday night, James did something else. He won his second ring, and his second Finals MVP Award, after submitting two huge games to drag his team back from the brink of elimination. He beat a Spurs team that has been as close to a dynasty as can be in the modern NBA. He beat Tim Duncan, one of the foremost players in NBA history and himself the owner of some impressive hardware. In fact, James joined Duncan on the list of multiple Finals MVP winners, alongside some other dudes like, oh, Kobe Bryant and Shaq and Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon and Magic and Larry Legend and Willis Reed and Kareem.
Heady company. The Finals MVP is the money award, because it all but guarantees you got a ring to go along with it. James won his second straight Finals MVP with most of the world against him, with a team that seemed to be crumbling around him, in a city where half the crowd had given up midway through Game 6.
If it wasn't official before, it is now: LeBron is King.
Every time it seems like James is not living up to expectations, he exceeds them. Every time we expect him to falter, he jumps so damn high he nearly decapitates himself on the rim. And right when it seemed time to stick a fork in the Miami Heat, James messed around and got a triple-double, then poured in 37 to drop the axe on a really sensational Spurs team.
It was closer than it should have been, perhaps, but there was no way to predict Dwyane Wade simply not showing up for much of the series or the Spurs bench submitting record-breaking performances. The so-called Big 3 is really a Huge One Plus Two, and barely two given the way Chris Bosh has played at points this season. The win streak, the domination, the back-to-back titles: let's not pretend it's the work of Erik Spoelstra.
Depending on how the Heat come together by the beginning of next season, James should be staring at a fifth MVP and a potential third consecutive NBA title. At that point, you start thinking Top 5 All-Time, and you stop sounding crazy bringing it up. Jordan won 6 at a time when the talent pool in the NBA was somewhat weaker - it sounds sacrilegious, but MJ didn't win his first title until Magic, Bird, Isiah Thomas and the great players of the 80s were over the hill. Jordan's greatest nemesis was probably Karl Malone. James has had to battle Duncan, Kevin Durant, Kobe, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and a whole host of other superstars who are gunning for his no. 1 spot.
A third title in this day and age, with roster turnover and 24/7 news cycle and the specter of The Decision still looming, would make James the best of his generation and a candidate for the best of any generation.
And the scary part? He's just reaching his potential.